Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, and situations belong to J.K. Rowling.
Special thanks to the incredibly talented LauraWinter for helping me gather my random ideas into a cohesive plot and for being the beta for this chapter.
Tom Riddle couldn't cry. He could not remember ever once shedding a tear, even when he was very young. It wasn't that he hadn't tried. The ability to cry would have come in very handy in his attempts to make himself appear sympathetic, he knew. He sat in his bed sometimes, willing his eyes to water, but they never did. Teardrops were one of only very few things that he could not force to obey him. The knowledge didn't bother him over much. Crying was for those too weak to do anything about their problems. Tom Riddle was many things, but he was not weak. The very fact of his survival proved that.
From the time he was very young, Tom was a natural mimic. He could easily manipulate those around him. He could smile at all the right moments, and express sadness when it was appropriate to do so. He could feign fear or despair or remorse, but he never felt those emotions. He experienced only rage. He pitied those who were slaves to emotions like love and sentimentality. Nevertheless, he was able to mimic these feelings so well that few knew he was incapable of them.
Tom knew only disdain for the stupid people around him and the silly things that emotions forced them to desire. He never craved true love or longed to follow his bliss. He never yearned for any of those worthless things on which the inferior people around him spent their dreams.
Tom desired only one thing in life: power. And he would go to any lengths to get it.
For the first eleven and a half years of his life, he was a mystery, even to himself. He heard the story of how he came to be at the orphanage from Mrs. Cole, the matron. His mother was young, and poor, and sick. She stumbled into the orphanage at the dying of the year and gave birth to Tom. They thought he would be a New Year Baby, full of hope and promise, but instead he was born a few minutes before midnight, entering into the year just in time to see it breathe its last. Years later, Mrs. Cole would think it an omen, as though Death had marked the infant as a loyal servant from the very moment of his birth.
His mother held him and named him Tom Marvolo Riddle - Tom after his father, and Marvolo after his mother's father. Then she handed the baby to Mrs. Cole and said, "I hope he looks like his papa." Minutes later, she was dead. She was but the first of many people who would die for Tom Marvolo Riddle. Before Tom was even an hour old, death was already nipping at his heels.
According to Mrs. Cole, Tom indeed looked like his father. She claimed he bore no resemblance whatsoever to the sad woman who gave her own life for his. Mrs. Cole told him the story often. Many of the children at the orphanage loved to hear stories about themselves and their parents. They would beg to be told, but Tom hated that story; hated that his mother was weak enough to die, and hated that she had left him in such an awful place.
Tom couldn't remember when it was that he discovered he was different from other people. It seemed to him he had always possessed the knowledge. One of his earliest memories was of being trapped in a crib and raging against the bars that confined him. He screamed out his anger, but no one came. Suddenly, inexplicably, the crib tipped over, and Tom walked out, tottering on unsure legs. He was out the door and down the street before anyone knew he was gone. A policeman caught him running down the street and brought him back to his frantic wardens at the orphanage. While walking away, the policeman tripped and fell down the front stairs, breaking his neck on the way down. Tom always knew that he had somehow caused the crib to fall and the policeman to trip. He couldn't have said exactly how he had done it, but he knew he had.
He discovered many other abilities as he grew and began to hone them carefully. When he was four, he found a grass snake at a park and felt an odd affinity for it. "I wish I could be a snake," he said to no one in particular. "And slither far away from here."
"You don't want to be a snake," the snake replied. "Humans try to kill me."
Tom was sure he was losing his mind. "You talk?" He asked the snake.
"Only to you," the snake replied. Over the years, he tried the trick again with every snake he encountered and found that he could talk to them all. When he was five, he found an adder on an outing and brought it home with him, convincing it to crawl into Mrs. Cole's bed. He hoped it would bite her and she would die. He hoped they would close the orphanage once she was dead, but she found the snake and killed it before it could hurt her. Tom was saddened by the loss of the snake. By that time, he much preferred snakes to people. Snakes were always kind to Tom. People rarely were. And Tom felt no desire to be kind to them in return.
By the time he was six, he could control his abilities. He spent hours practicing with a single-minded desire to gain power over those around him. He could move objects with only his mind. He could force the other children to do his bidding through sheer force of will. He could hurt them without touching them if they refused. He carried vendettas against those children who would not conform to his will, and he always took his revenge. Once, when he was seven, he pulled out his own fingernail and reported to Mrs. Cole that one of the big girls had held him down and done it. The girl had called him a name in the hall just the day before. Tom felt a small surge of joy when the girl was sent to work for a family despite her insistence that she was innocent.
The girl's departure gave him the idea to try to get himself tossed out as well. That was when he began being actively cruel to the other children. Once a boy tried to fight with him and he stole the boy's pet rabbit and hanged it from the rafters above the boy's bed. When the boy went to bed that night, he saw the rabbit and screamed. Tom lay awake listening to the boy crying over the rabbit and smiled. Another time, he trapped a little girl on the roof in the dead of winter and forbade her to call for help. They found her the next morning, nearly frozen to death. When they asked her how she got up there, she said, "Tom made me fly." They thought her traumatized, and she quickly learned to keep the truth to herself.
No matter what he tried, however, Mrs. Cole would not let him leave.
Until, that is, he was eleven.
That was when a man called Dumbledore appeared unexpectedly on the steps of the orphanage and promised to take him away.
Dumbledore unnerved Tom immediately, something few people could do. Tom realized at once that this would not be a man he could control. By then, controlling others had become second nature to him, so losing the ability crippled him in ways he did not expect. His bright blue eyes seemed almost to see through Tom, as though seeing into the darkest places of his very soul.
Dumbledore told Tom he was a wizard, which was why he could do so many things others could not, before inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to be trained.
Tom was not surprised to find he was special; he had always known it. He determined to go to Hogwarts and learn everything they could teach him there. Then, he would go out into the world with his powers and cow the weak-minded people who had always surrounded him.
At Hogwarts, a new world was opened to him. He learned to control his magic and use it to do things he had never dreamed. He chose for himself the role of the sympathetic orphan, and had all his teachers, save Dumbledore, wrapped around his finger by the end of his first week. He pretended to be awed and excited about everything. Whenever a professor told him how well he was doing, he would smile and give them a heartfelt thank-you. At the end of his first month, he managed to brew a complicated Potion and Slughorn, the Potions professor and Tom's head of house, patted him on the shoulder and said he was proud. "No one's ever told me they were proud of me before," Tom replied shyly. He was amazed at how often his professors began saying the words after that. Emotional people were so predictable.
As he and his talents grew, he began to collect hangers-on, mostly those who were as power-hungry as he was but not talented enough to steal power for themselves. Tom allowed these hangers-on to remain with him, fawning over him and doing his bidding. They were useful, so he came to value them.
At Hogwarts, Tom tried to discover the truth about his parentage. Dumbledore had told him that one of his parents was magical. Tom assumed it must be his father because his mother had died. Tom was quite sure that someone magical could not die. He was outraged when he discovered that his father was a simple muggle. He promised himself he would kill the man one day and abandoned the weak name that his weak parents had shackled him with. He fashioned for himself a new identity. To his admirers, Tom Marvolo Riddle became Lord Voldemort. Someday, he knew, he would be so powerful that people would tremble before him and speak his name only in whispers. Someday.
Armed only with his middle name, Voldemort began his search again and found that he was descended from a once-great, though now more or less defunct, family known as the Gaunts. They were the last direct descendants of the famed wizard Salazar Slytherin, the man who had given his name to Slytherin House at Hogwarts, the house to which Voldemort himself belonged.
Voldemort reveled in the knowledge that he was Slytherin's heir. It was more proof to him that he was truly special. He delved into magical history to discover more about his ancient relative, which was how he came across the legend of the Chamber of Secrets and became the first person to open it in a thousand years. He used the monster inside - a centuries-old basilisk - to purge the school of the filthy muggles, like his father, who dared to infest the magical community. He didn't stop, even when he killed one. He only stopped when the school governors threatened to close Hogwarts and send him back to the orphanage.
Voldemort may have hated muggles, but he loved himself much more. If they had to stay alive a few more years so he could continue his education, he could live with that. The time would come soon enough when he would annihilate them all.
After all, a basilisk wasn't the only way to kill. Voldemort was thirteen when he learned about the killing curse. He put it to use immediately, fascinated by the immediacy of the death it caused. He started using it to kill animals. At first, it was small things: a Gryffindor's cat, a fox, a wild dog. He quickly graduated to larger animals. He found a unicorn once while wandering in the forest and killed it solely for the singularity of the act. Not long after that, he stumbled across a lone centaur and left it dead in his wake.
The first time he killed a man at wandpoint, he felt nothing. That surprised him; he would have expected to feel something. But he felt nothing more than he would have felt if he'd just squashed a bug, only a small sense of accomplishment at having mastered the killing curse. He was fourteen years old, and already he was the master of death.
Only one thing bothered him. It was a small thought, yet it lodged itself firmly in the back of his mind and would not give him any peace. He may be able to control the lives and deaths of others, but he could not control his own. No matter how much power he gained, one day he, too, would die. The thought terrified him in a way that nothing else could. And so, he began to research how to truly master death. He threw himself into the project and discovered two possibilities: Hallows and Horcruxes. He quickly chose the latter. The Hallows would have to be searched for, while Horcruxes could be created. Voldemort had always been a man of action: creation appealed to him much more than discovery. He set cheerfully about the task.
By the time he graduated from Hogwarts at the age of eighteen, Voldemort had already pushed magic to its stretching point, taken it farther than it had ever been taken before, and assured his own immortality.
For the next two and a half decades, Lord Voldemort hid in the shadows, amassing his armies and making his plans. It would not do to show himself too soon and risk ruining everything. He vowed not to make his move until he was strong enough to overtake the entire magical community. He began by contacting those who had admired him at Hogwarts. Nearly all of them jumped at the chance to serve Voldemort once again. Those who did not, died.
Next, he reached out to the outcasts - those creatures that wizards had kept under foot and promised them a share in his power. He had no intention of keeping his promise, but the giants, werewolves, vampires, dementors, and hags who joined him in droves never suspected that he would betray them. They called themselves the Death Eaters, because they served the man who had not only defeated death, but rendered it obsolete.
The attacks began slowly. Voldemort kept to the underground, using subterfuge and blackmail to build his power base. Rather than assassinating powerful figures, he threatened their families and kept them on as puppets, willing to do anything he asked to keep their loved-ones safe. An undercurrent of terror rippled throughout the magical community. Every attack brought renewed fear.
He developed a calling card to identify his work, a skull with a snake slithering out of it mouth called the Dark Mark. Every magician lived in fear of coming home one day to find the Dark Mark outside their home. When it happened, everyone well knew what to expect to see inside. Voldemort never left survivors. Men, women, children, the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the powerful, the unknown, he sent them all into the abyss. Then he used their bodies for his legions of inferi. Yes, he was Death's most faithful servant.
It worked beyond his wildest dreams. He thought his name would be spoken only in whispers, but soon it was not spoken at all. To his followers, he was "The Dark Lord". To all others, he became known as "You-Know-Who" or "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or sometimes just "Him".
Just when he appeared unstoppable, a few misguided souls began a resistance movement called the Order of the Phoenix and began recruiting an army of its own. The Order grew slowly. The panic was such that few wanted to openly tempt the Dark Lord. The Order never posed a serious threat. It was more like an annoying fly buzzing around Voldemort's head: a fly that he longed to swat but couldn't manage to. So, he recruited a spy and waited for the proper moment to destroy it.
Then, a glimmer of hope went through the magical world. The granddaughter of a famed seer made a prophecy that a child would soon be born with the power to vanquish him. He decided he must find the child and kill it. Details about the child were few, but Voldemort was not concerned. He had once solved the mystery of his own parentage, after all; he was sure he could solve this mystery as well. Severus Snape, one of his most trusted servants, gave him more than enough information to find the child. First, the child would be born to parents who had thrice defied Lord Voldemort. There were precious few couples who fit that bill. Second, the child would be born as the seventh month died. His spy in the Order informed him that only two couples were expecting: Lily and James Potter and Frank and Alice Longbottom. As July blew out, Voldemort's spy informed him that both children had just been born.
The complication was a minor one. Killing two infants was no different to Voldemort than killing one. Both families went into hiding after their children were born, fearful that Voldemort would come calling. It was over a year later before he learned where both families were staying and set out to exterminate them on a Halloween night. He liked the symbolism of Halloween, and imagined the day going down in history as the day he completed his quest to become invincible. Hundreds of years from now, pure-blooded children at Hogwarts would celebrate his triumph and praise the name of the man who had rid the world of muggles.
He went for the Potters first. They had been a thorn in his side since their school days when he offered to let them join him, promising them places of honor amongst his Death Eaters, and they refused. Voldemort had coveted James in particular. In addition to being an accomplished magician who seemed to thwart Voldemort and the Death Eaters at every turn, the man had a certain je ne sais quoi, an inexplicable charisma that made people instantly like him and want to follow him, even into death. Better yet, he was completely unaware of it, which made it all the more pronounced. Voldemort had long since decided that James Potter must either join him or die, and now he had the means to see it through.
When he arrived at the Potter residence, he found only Lily and Harry, the baby. Voldemort had no intention of killing Lily: one of his servants was in love with her and had begged him not to, imagining himself swooping in to sweep her off her feet once James had been dispatched. Voldemort made it a point to reward his faithful, not because he cared for their happiness, but because he knew those small kindnesses could sometimes be the difference between love and hate, between loyalty and betrayal. In the end, however, Lily was determined to die in place of her child, and so Voldemort killed her. He was not concerned; he was sure his servant would find another woman, a better woman, a woman more worthy of his unique talents.
As Lily crumpled to the floor, Voldemort stared into the eyes of the baby. He was standing in his crib, looking at Voldemort with curious eyes when Voldemort put his wand in the toddler's face and uttered the spell that would sever his soul from his body.
After that, Voldemort knew only pain. He knew not what had happened, but somehow the spell had backfired and his own soul had been severed in place of the child's. Expecting to find himself unstoppable, Voldemort instead found himself inexplicably broken and defeated. Yet he felt accomplishment. He was still alive; his experiments had worked. He fled to a forest in Albania and waited for the right moment to make himself known. He did not even entertain the notion that he might never regain his former power. Instead, he existed with the single-minded focus of bending the future toward his will.
Patience had never been one of Voldemort's gifts. Yet he waited. Ten years later, Voldemort found his venue: a Hogwarts professor who was weak-minded enough to be easily manipulated. Voldemort possessed his body and traveled back to his homeland, determined to find the Philosopher's Stone and rise again. But he was foiled by the unlikeliest of people. Harry Potter, now a Hogworts first-year appeared just when Voldemort was on the brink of triumph and stole the Stone from under his nose, killing his servant in the process. Finding himself once more without a body, Voldemort returned to Albania, cursing the boy and vowing to someday finish what he started.
Then, something happened that he did not expect. One of his old servants found him and began to nurse him back to health. He and his servant returned to Britain, to the house where his filthy muggle father had lived and, at the point of Voldemort's wand, died. There, Voldemort would be free to plot and plan. There, Voldmort could mount his comeback and take his revenge. There, with the help of his servant, Voldemort created the strategy that would finally rid the world of Harry Potter.